Grape Arbor For The Hens (And Me)

My hens don’t free-range unless I’m outside with them. I keep them safe from coyotes, dogs, and foxes with good fencing. But danger can also come from above. For the last four years a pair of redtail hawks have nested in the woods behind my house. More hawks live across the street. There is netting above the Little Barn run – Candy is quite safe – but the way the Big Barn pen is configured makes hawk netting impossible.

Good Dog Lily chases predators out of the sky (many dogs never look up, but she is hyper-vigilant.) However, Lily is not always outside to protect the girls.

In an effort to protect the hens, I’ve criss-crossed string over the run – hawks don’t risk getting tangled up in it. And I’ve hung CDs, that sparkle erratically in the sun and keep the airborne predators (and pesky sparrows) away.

This winter, while reading “garden porn” – those colorful seed and plant catalogs that always seem to arrive in the mailbox on the dreariest and coldest days of winter – I came across seedless grapes that are suited (so they say) to my area. I had an “a-hah!” moment. What if I planted the grapes along the chicken’s fence? What if they twined up and up, and then across and created a shady, verdant arbor, impenetrable by hawks? And from those vines would hang clusters of delicious grapes that I’d harvest? And the girls would get only the drops. There. That’s the fantasy.

On Sunday I planted three bare root plants that don’t look like they’ll grow at all. One each of Pink Seedless Reliance, Concord Seedless, and Red Seedless Canadice. I watered. I put down mulch.

Gardening takes patience. It’s for those who can envision the long view. Chicken are not good gardeners. As I worked, the girls gathered at the fence, intrigued by the twigs sticking out of the ground. They clucked and paced the fence-line, eager to get into the new bark mulch. Today I’m going to spend time in the vegetable garden planting peas. I was going to let the hens out to free-range while I work. But, what with the way they are eying the grapes, they’ll be staying in.


  1. I grow hops on my chicken run fence. It’s very prolific and gives them great shade.

      • They do peck at the leaves but aren’t interested in the hops themselves once they grow. I protect the lower part of the vines with hardware cloth so they can’t pull off all the leaves, just to the height the hens can reach.

  2. Oh boy, grapes are one of the favorite snacks of my chickens. They would spend all day jumping for those overhead treats:-)

    We often use a shade cloth in the summer heat, attaching it over the chicken yard for better shade. It can would to keep overhead predators away too, I imagine. But our hens free range so they can also be out in the sun….I guess that wouldn’t work for yours because they’d have no sun on their faces.

    I hope your idea works and the chickens don’t undo all your work:-)

    • Denise, we use a shade tarp for Candy. I’m glad you mentioned sunshine. I don’t like seeing the coops with runs that are 100% covered. Chickens need and enjoy bright sunshine. (In the coop, too! Coops should have windows!) Where the Big Barn is sited facing southeast, even if the arbor grew over the fence, the sun would still reach in.

  3. At least your hawks don’t sit on the run fence post and peer in and terrify your hens. I have a red tail AND a coopers hawk that just torment my poor hens.

    My hens are not happy with me either. The elephant ears and banana plants were planted Sunday so free ranging is over until first frost.

    My garden is going in this weekend and peas are top of the list. Love eating them right of the plant.

    Can’t wait to see the finished product on the grape vine.

    • Raccoons are vicious predators. They can climb up any fence and can rip the hawk netting off of the run (had that happen years ago and lost several hens.) They are usually nighttime predators, and are the #1 reason why I latch my girls in at night (the latch on the inside, as raccoons can open doors.)

      • Terry if I may add to your comment. There is a great saying “chicken wire keeps chickens in and nothing out”. I have seen racoons, possums etc. rip right through chicken wire like it’s cheese cloth. So, for windows use a very heavy guage hardware cloth and no such thing as too many staples to secure it to the building.

          • About the only predator we don’t have. Mink use to be my biggest threat when I lived in Illinois, they can slip through the smallest of openings.

  4. Terry, Do you know if hens are at risk from foxes in the daytime? I am always outside when my hens free range but I saw a fox outside the fence the other day.

    • Yes, I see foxes out and about during the day. Especially in suburbia, where they have nothing to fear, they’ll hunt in the daytime, too, instead of the dawn and dusk hunting that more cautious foxes do.

    • Viki, I live in CA too. I have seen fox outside in broad daylight and lost one or two hens to a fox a few years ago. They are very bold.

  5. … and you’ll discover that some of your hens can fly and they will fly into the vine and eat all the grapes ;-)

    just saying…. it mightn’t happen, but you haven’t seen the determined glint in my Sylvie’s eye when she knows our grapes are ripe!



    • Celia, the plan is that the vine will grow quite high. I have visions of it being as sturdy as the plant in Jack in the Beanstalk :) I’m afraid the reality is going to be different, as you suggest…

  6. Hi Terry…..just stumbled on to your wonderful website and “hen blog”. What a great resource for chicken us chicken people. Since I am here, I am going to toss a question out there. One of my Ameracuanas has not layed an egg in several months. She seems to be on hold in mid molt, also for several months. Otherwise she seems healthy. Eats well, forages with the rest of the girls. She spends time in the nest box, but nothing happens. I have wormed them, given them garlic and buttermilk ever other week. Maybe she is just on an extended break? Any thoughts?

    • Welcome to my site! I don’t usually answer off-blog topic answers here, but I will today :) Some chickens are not good layers. Some chickens that were good layers get worn out and by the time they are three lay infrequently if not at all. If she’s not growing her feathers back after a molt, then I’ve a feeling she’s used up her resources and is in retirement. Feathers and eggs take a huge amount of protein and minerals to produce. You might see if she responds to protein like cooked eggs and sunflower seeds. Reduce scratch corn and other treats. I’ve had success with pet bird food designed for canaries.

      • Thank you for a great suggestions…..sorry about being off topic. I guess I just jumped in. What a wonderful resource you have created! My girls live with llamas and alpacas, so they are pretty safe during the day. At night they all come inside….so far so good!